When two (spaces) are better than one

I don’t know about you but there are countless things that annoy me about modern life and one of them is the slow decline into the use of a single space after a full stop or period.

Until the early twentieth century, guidelines were numerous and often contradictory.   There were a variety of space sizes, such as the large ‘em-quad’ (traditionally the width of a capital ‘M’), the smaller ‘en-quad’ (the width of a capital ‘N’) and the even smaller 1/3 em (one third of the width of a capital ‘M’).

Typesetters followed various, sometimes complex, rules of style.  Generally, the em-quad was used after full stops, while the en-quad was used after all other punctuation.

I can’t be the only who learned to write at school and were instructed that even with handwriting there should be a finger’s space between words or after a comma and two (or indeed a thumb) following a full-stop and the capital letter of the next sentence.

When typewriters were invented in the 1860s, the practice of having a longer space between sentences was carried over.  But instead of an em-space, typists simply used two normal spaces.

Following the end of WW2, most institutes in the USA and even a few in the U.K. were dropping the second spaced and advocating the use of a single space for all punctuation but that doesn’t mean it is right.

Personally, I can’t abide it!  In fact even in my Tweets with characters at a premium, I always try to make sure there are two spaces after a full-stop.  I’m not the only one thankfully with the single-spacing practice being slated by American journalist Farhad Manjoo, writing on Slate.com. In London Telegraph columnist Damian Thompson, it’s a ‘typographical atrocity’.

Is the use of a single space actually an issue of grammar or an issue of style?  If the whole point of writing is to put forward your text in an easy to understand fashion then again I would say two spaces is more clear than one.

Those on the other side of the argument might state that the use of double spaces might be old-fashioned, like that is a bad thing!   I remember in the 1980’s the BBC actually using three spaces after a full-stop. In fact in some areas of life such as academia.

I know there is no real wrong or right answer but though I try not to think that way, I can’t hide the fact that people who use only one space after full-stops are heathens!!  Like those who talk loudly on their phones whilst on public transport or who can’t eat using a knife and fork AND keeping their mouth shut when chewing.

What do you think?  I will do my best not to edit comments that disagree with me.  🙂


About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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6 Responses to When two (spaces) are better than one

  1. I agree with you but cannot resist the temptation to point out that there appears to be only one space after the full stop in “…….Manjoo, writing on Slate.com. In London Telegraph columnist Damian Thompson, it’s a ‘typographical atrocity’.”, after the .com! I will admit to routinely breaching the rule though I know the wider space looks better.


  2. Two spaces, 3 dots, 6 dots, asterisks … whatever makes your day ……….., and helps to make your point.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree, the change to single-spacing after punctuation marks was unnecessary and caused confusion. In high school, I learned how to type on manual and electric typewriters before the advent of personal computers. The instruction was standardized at that time.

    A few years ago, a young journalism student chastised me for using double-spacing. I wanted to tell her to “bugger off,” but I resisted the urge out of politeness.


  4. Joseph Nebus says:

    I am a double-spacer myself, as I learned to type properly. I have never heard anyone give an explanation for why one space would be any better. The most baffling has been that two spaces were fine for typewriters with their fixed-width fonts, but now that there’s variable-width fonts there’s no need for a bigger space between sentences? There’s a few missing steps there, such as all of them.


  5. djdfr says:

    I continue to use the two spaces, even going through my posts and correcting them before posting since wordpress only puts one (even though I carefully put two in my original). It makes it more evident when a sentence has ended. One can take a deep breath, pause… 🙂


  6. Pingback: Coronavirus Diary 4 – From Boris with love. | Stephen Liddell

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